“The protection in the act will help to improve working conditions for farmers, farm families and Agri-food sector employees,” said Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Because all Ontarians have the right to a safe workplace, especially when that workplace is also their home.”
Hardeman said the Act doesn’t curtail a person’s right to participate in a legal protest in public spaces but added the right has never included trespassing on private property harassing our farmers or putting our food supply at risk.
“We have seen trespassing protest activity ramp up over the last little while,” said Allan Thompson, Mayor of Caledon and chair of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA). “These activities pose a threat to our farms or farm families, food suppliers and it poses a threat to the overall public safety.”
Thompson said the government’s action to provide producers, municipalities, law enforcement and the judicial system the tools to do their jobs and help resolve disputes is a welcome and much-needed move in the right direction.
“From the outset of developing this legislation careful work was put into balancing the rights of the farmers and their farm operations with the rights of people to participate in lawful protest and advocacy activities on public property,” Hardeman said.
- Read more: Parts of animal trespass bill to go into force immediately
- Read more: Agriculture lawyer calls for conviction of trespassing activists
- Read more: The fine line between protest and provocation
The Act includes a non-degradation clause to clarify the act is not intended to affect existing Indigenous or treaty rights and highlights the need for education around respecting those rights and ensuring the safety of First Nation hunters.
Hardeman said more than 850 comments were received from the public regarding the development of regulations required to bring the legislation into force.
Hardeman said during the consultation several comments came forward around how to define an animal protection zone, what qualifies as a farm animal and concerns around whistleblowers who are conducting undercover investigations.
He said the basis for the protection zone is any place that livestock is housed and contained, however, there are regulations covering areas that may not be occupied by livestock all the time. For example, a farm field could be a protection zone if it has livestock in it, or delineated by containment of animals. The whole farm is not automatically covered under the livestock protection zone.
Hardeman said trucks transporting animals do not fall under the livestock protection zone; rather they are covered specifically by regulations prohibiting interference of those vehicles. Additionally, some regulations specifically prohibit interfering with the livestock on the trucks, with the regulation defining exactly what interference with livestock looks like.
Hardeman said in general terms it would cover individual personal contact or contact with a product.
Insofar as protecting whistleblowers in terms of the false pretences aspect of the bill Hardeman said, “if you get that permission under false pretences that would be illegal.”
If a person became employed within the livestock or agri-food sector and failed to report unsafe conditions or animal cruelty, they would be charged under the Act regardless of their media status or not.
He said it isn’t about waiting to see how big of a media event can be created or flaunting biosecurity protocols, which may result in damage to the animals or food security in the act of getting information.
“We have no tolerance for cruelty to animals,” he said “You don’t get an exemption from the damage caused because you were media, but if you follow the protocol to make sure that the risk is low, you’ll have a right to go in and get your message out again.”
Hardeman said they want to ensure our food supply is protected but also ensure it’s performed humanely, reiterating, “Animal cruelty is not acceptable to our government.”
Peggy Brekveld, Ontario Federation of Agriculture president, said the STPFSA along with the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act 2019, will offer farmers, livestock transporters and processing facilities new protections.
“To be clear, Ontario farm and commodity organizations are aligned and have a zero-tolerance for animal abuse,” she said. “These two acts combine to align attention to the welfare of animals we raise with the need to protect people, and Ontario’s food supply, all while providing a process for lawful and peaceful protest.”
Those who trespass on farms, barns, processing facilities and interfere with transport vehicles could have devastating impacts on the health and safety of the food supply from the farm all the way down the value chain, she said.
Susan Fitzgerald, executive director of Ontario Livestock Transporters’ Alliance (OLTA), said the STPFSA is an important piece of legislation that balances the right to free speech and peaceful protest against the health and safety of the protestors, those in the Agri-food sector and animals.
“It’s going to help law enforcement protect those who work in agriculture,” she said, adding it’s another tool in the toolbox, much like trucks being outfitted with cameras, to facilitate greater on-the-job security.
That said, Fitzgerald and many others in agriculture are very aware not everyone is supportive of STPFSA coming into force, and much like when Section 6(1) of the Act came into force, anticipate some pushback.
“Some animal activist groups will be very disappointed in the announcement today that it’s being proclaimed and in force tomorrow,” she said. “And certainly, I think everyone in agriculture is advised to just be a little bit more alert for the next little bit.”